Ronni's Uncle Jess passed away last week, and we had his memorial service today. i had the privilege of leading the service, and speaking at it. thought i'd post an excerpt from the sermon, in honor of Uncle Jess:
It occurs to me that I owe Uncle Jess a debt of gratitude. In the early years of dating Ronni, it was always a bit of a mystery why I was welcomed so readily into this family. Over the last 14 years or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to give a fair share of the credit not to my own charm and good looks, but rather to Uncle Jess’ hard won good reputation.
[Drafting behind a faster vehicle, getting pulled along by the wake of a boat…]
When I came into this family, Uncle Jess was like that faster car or larger boat in front of me. I got to draft a little bit off of his good name. Everyone loved Uncle Jess: he was the big brother to Ronni’s mom who had filled in like a provider for her as a little girl when her dad had been unable to. He was one of her dad’s best friends for as long as Ronni could remember. He was generous hearted toward everyone who’s talked to me about him. Just by virtue of name association, I think all of you were inclined to give me the benefit of the doubt. So let me begin by saying, “Thanks, Uncle Jess.”
Jesse B. Hazel had a lightness to his being that belied the weight he’d carried in his life. I can’t forget how delighted he was with the simplest things.
Delighted by how Colin had grown, by the breadth of his burgeoning vocabulary, by his incomparable athletic prowess in relation to the other 3 year olds Jess had played catch with recently.
Delighted by Ronni, and Paula, and Becky. Delighted by their talents and success.
Delighted to see me. Delighted to hear I was a pastoring a church now, even though I could tell he didn’t know exactly what all that entailed. Not that I knew exactly what all that entailed for that matter.
Delighted with the movies we’d gotten him for Christmas. Delighted with those gameboy games, amazing what they can do these days.
He came over to our house and played with my flight simulator not long ago, he and Uncle Arnie. Wow, look at Los Angeles! Sydney, Australia! His face was filled with wonder at the wonders of the world on the screen in front of him, the wonder that the world had come to the point where he could be piloting a plane in my office, filled with the thrill of taking off, just missing the trees and telephone wires, wondering if the slightest tremble in his hand just might send his virtual airplane tumbling out of the sky.
Whatever or whoever was in front of Jess had his whole attention, his whole respect, his whole interest, his whole delight.
Sure, he could get perturbed. Something a politician had said or done. Something the Tigers had failed to do. Something he’d seen on the news. But you could tell it didn’t really get him down; he was just pretending because it was the socially polite thing to do, to be indignant about those things. A smile was always gliding just under the surface like a porpoise, ready to leap and splash across his face.
If you’d known Jess as a young man, you might have expected him to become bitter, withdrawn, cynical. He’d just gone to Florida, ready to make a fresh start on his dreams when he got the news of his father’s accident. I don’t know if he wrestled with God then, what sorts of internal conversations he had—maybe those of you who knew him then know—but the fact of the matter is that he came back to Michigan, got his old job back, minus the seniority he’d accumulated, and took care of the family his father wasn’t able to anymore. And then when his dad passed on, he stayed with his mom, caring for her until she passed into Christ’s care. For Barbara, the baby sister he helped support and raise, he was something more than a big brother. For her children, he became almost like a grandfather.
Jess let go of whatever dream had led him to Florida, and perhaps none of us but God will know the true measure of his sacrifice, the cost he paid to do what had to be done. It’s probably impossible to know the weight that Jess carried in his life, the dark nights of the soul that he certainly endured, but it’s equally impossible to miss the joy with which Jess chose to embrace each one of us. Each of us knows, in different ways, the immeasurable good that came to us through the man Jess became. We know the impact his generosity has had on our lives, the impact of the care and delight Jess freely, unbegrudgingly gave.
afterwards we went to eat at hometown (previously, old country) buffet, Uncle Jess' favorite restaurant. very cool.